Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's the Canes

The B's will face the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round, starting Friday night. So how did the B's do against them in the regular season?

December 20 in Carolina: Bruins win 4-2. Fernandez in goal. Scores by Savard, Krejci, Thornton, and Yelle. Three stars: Thornton, Thomas, Brind'amour.

December 27 in Boston: Bruins win 4-2. Thomas in goal. Scores by Wheeler (2), Ryder and Kobasew. Three stars: Wheeler, Ryder, Babchuk.

January 10 in Boston: Bruins win 5-1. Thomas in goal. Scores by Krejci, Yelle, Stuart, Ryder (2). Three stars: Krejci, Ryder, Thomas.

February 17 in Carolina: Bruins win 5-1. Thomas in goal. Scores by Wheeler, Hnidy, Krejci, Kobasew, plus a shorty from Bergeron. Three stars; Krejci, Chara, Thomas.

It's never easy in the second round. But as long as the B's want it badly enough they certainly have the tools they need to win this series. My prediction: Bruins win in 5.

Sharks Tank

Longtime Bruins fans have a connection to the San Jose Sharks through the Thornton trade. At the time the experts around the league claimed the trade of Thornton for Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart was an embarrassment for Boston. That and the race for the President's trophy this season between the B's and the Sharks has led me to keep one eye on the left coast during the playoffs. Some even believed it may come down to the Sharks vs. the Bruins in the cup final.

My view of the Sharks mirrors my view of Joe Thornton. They don't have what it takes to go deep in the playoffs. I watched Thornton play and he just floated around the zone waiting for the puck to come to him. You can't do that in the playoffs. You have to get in there along the boards and fight hard for the puck, and when you do get it you have to skate as hard and as fast as you can 100% of the time. I've said it here before: Thornton only has one speed. He has no "playoff gear" and neither do the Sharks as a team.

When I saw that San Jose had matched up against Anaheim in the first round my thought was that Anaheim was going to eliminate them. San Jose has a long history of disappointing results in the playoffs, and Anaheim has just the right hard-playing style to bring them down. But since I didn't see much of the western conference this season I must admit that this was probably 40% history and 60% wishful thinking. I had read that the Sharks had changed--that like the Bruins they had become a complete team. But when put to the test this proved to be an empty claim. And as for Anaheim, they are the first team I have watched this season that seemed familiar. They play very much like the Bruins, playing a hard complete team game. But one other thing I noticed was that they lacked the size and especially the talent of the B's. Their finish near the net just wasn't there. Time and again they would force a turnover or win the puck along the boards only to flub the pass or miss the shot.

So where does that leave our sleeping Bruins? Most observers around the league expect Boston to follow the Sharks lead, once they meet a real opponent. But those of us who have watched them all year know differently. They may not win the cup, but I'd be very surprised if the Bruins embarrass themselves in the playoffs. I have no doubt that they can beat any of the remaining teams in the eastern conference, and it does not matter who they match up against. The one worry I have is this: do they want it enough? Aside from the almost daily claims to the contrary, does this team feel they have already accomplished their goal for the season? We will find out... but only after this long excruciating wait is over.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Looch Suspended

The NHL has announced that the B's Milan Lucic has been suspended for game three of the series against Montreal.

Many Bruins fans are up in arms, complaining of everything from inconsistency to a conspiracy by the NHL to help the Habs or lengthen the series. Many Habs fans are gloating, saying that this proves that Looch is the goon they have claimed him to be all along. My take? Both are off the mark.

The way I see it is this: both the NHL and the Players Association have been preaching that they want to crack down on blows to the head (partly as a result of Bergeron's concussion). It's like when a player gets his stick parallel to the ice and and hooks the blade around the midsection of the guy in front of him. It doesn't matter if he pulled hard enough to interfere with the progress of the player--it's going to be called every time. The NHL is looking to make a statement here, and what Looch did looked like a violent cross check to the face. Nevermind the fact that nobody was hurt, that he was only defending himself, that it has been the Habs all along who have acted like goons after the whistle not the Bruins, and that it was only his glove that made contact. It looked bad enough that they had to make the call.

In two or three games--when the Bruins are waiting for their next opponent--this will be forgotten.

In fact, I think this works in the Bruins favor. First it gets Byron Bitz into the game. He's got to be chomping at the bit to play and he knows this may be his only chance. I expect him to play like a monster out there. Second, it gives the B's something to get fired up about going into the likeliest game of the series for them to lose. And third, the league did send a message. Not just to Looch but to everyone. This hardly gives the Habs a free ride to continue being goons by raising elbows and bloodying players after the whistle. Rather, I think they may be looking over their shoulder at the referee.

Lastly, for anyone who hasn't followed the Briuns closely I want to say something about Lucic. I've watched all but a handful of his NHL games. Looch is no goon. He will dance when asked and usually win. He will hit hard along the boards. He does not set out to injure anyone. Rather, his hard hits are often beautifully timed to create a turnover or scoring opportunity. Unlike Laraque or some of the other journeyman goons, Looch can skate and score. No--he's not Cam Neely, at least not yet, but he is an impact player with considerable skill.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Little Lost Habs

A good game by the B's last night although they gave me a scare with their lackluster play throughout much of the 3rd period. I did not expect that. But when they finally turned it on, they really turned it on. Overall I was left with the impression that the Bruins could beat the Habs with two lines in the stands and Fernandez in goal.

I loved this quote from Savard after Chara scored the game winner: “Then the monster was waiting back there with his stick touching the roof, so I slid one back and it was a great shot by him.”

But as a hockey fan I was very unhappy with what Lapierre did at the end of this game. Attacking an opposing player after the whistle is forgivable when that player has tried to harm your goalie or taken a cheap shot. But to go after the other team's top goal scorer after he scores an empty netter with no goaltender involved and no contact on the play--that crosses the line. There still is such a thing as being a poor sport. In fact, its one of the reasons that I steer my kids toward hockey. Behind the facade of fighting and rough play hockey is a sport filled with real heroes and upstanding role models. Players still shake hands after a tough playoff series and so far nobody taunts the other team when they score a goal. I would hate to see that change.

To top it off, after the siren sounded Komisarek went after Hunwick and gouged him in the eye! What bothers me most about this isn't how Lapierre and his fellow Habs acted after it was clear they had lost, but that few fans/comentators seem to be speaking out against it. I keep hearing, "that's what you have to expect between the Bruins and the Habs." But if it's ok to attack someone after the game ends just because you lost, then why not in the parking lot later? Can they jump out of the bushes at the guys home too? Where does it end? I think the league needs to consider handing out fines if this happens again. Two tough guys who have been beating each other up all game is one thing, but to go after a goal scorer just because you lost is quite another! That's not being tough. It's acting like a spoiled four year old. Shame on the Canadiens.

Anyhow, in terms of the playoff series what this says to me is that the Habs have lost their way. They know that they are supposed to go out there and intimidate the B's but they don't seem to know how to go about doing it properly.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Expectations, etc.

Well here we are, the day we've all been waiting for. Game 1 against Montreal in the first round of the playoffs. I always think its a good idea to set realistic expectations before embarking on something so important, so here is my personal take on the B's chances this post season.

Do the Bruins have what it takes to win a Cup? The answer is a definite yes. Goaltending: check. Defense: check. Scoring: check. Coaching: check. Depth at every position: check (except perhaps in goal). Intangibles: check.

The intangibles include being up to the challenge when other teams try to get under their skin, the ability to play in a hard-checking playoff style, the ability and depth to adjust to injuries, and the ability to come back from a deficit.

I saw some hockey "expert" say that he didn't think a team that was in eighth place last year could win the cup the next. I know where he's coming from because that's exactly the sort of thing I say about teams I don't follow closely. But I am in a different position, having seen nearly every game the Bruins have played for the last three seasons. It's obvious to me that this team has all the tools--in spades--to win the Cup. And if they don't win it will be a lost opportunity.

That said, to my expectations. The road to the Cup is paved with adversity, some of which can bring down even the greatest teams. Goaltenders can get hot. Teams can get unlucky. Key players can become injured. On that last note, I doubt if Fernandez, even playing well, could get the B's to the final. And losing Chara would also have a possibly cup-losing impact.

So given all that, I expect the Bruins to win in the first round. Anything less will be a terrible disappointment. A loss in the second round would be disappointing as well, but not devastatingly so. After that, my expectations will be met.

If the B's win the conference final, I will be a very happy fan! If they lose, then so be it. And if the B's win the cup... well, after watching this team grow over the last three years that would be indescribably amazing!

Notes on the Caps vs. Rangers

Things that impressed me: the ferocity of the Caps attack, particularly in the 1st. Ovechkin, the one man team. The goaltending of Lundqvist.

But I thought both teams showed some weak spots. Neither showed particularly good defense. The Rangers PK did Ok, but did not play very well. The Caps PP seemed entirely about getting the puck to Ovechkin, who seemingly played every shift of the game as well. A good defensive team will shut that down. But most of all, if the Caps don't find better goaltending there is no way they can go very far.

Anybody who saw that game last night and wonders why Thomas got the big bucks, perhaps you need not wonder any longer. The Rangers did not win that game. Theodore lost it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Christmas Comes in April

I opened a web page this morning and my jaw dropped in disbelief. I will deny it to the last, but some who were present claim that this die-hard Tim Thomas fan even had a little tear in his eye.

According to the Boston Globe this morning, Tim Thomas has signed a new 3 year deal worth $5.2 million per year with the Bruins.

The one thing that has been bothering me as the Bruins get ready for what could be a long playoff run has been the prospect of Tim Thomas walking away as a free agent this summer. I believe that there is no better goaltender in the NHL and no more important player to his team. At $5.2 million he's a steal. My congratulations to Peter Chiarelli. So many years for the Bruins, so many goaltenders... but this one's the most special of them all.

And nobody deserves this payoff more than Tim Thomas!